From the seasoned one…

Characterization

There are many elements that make up the fabric of a story.  Plot, setting, conflict, resolution and of course, characters.  There are many who will argue which of the five is most important.  This time, I will focus on characterization.  The characters are what a story is about.  Without good characters, people that grab a reader’s imagination and makes them want to know more about them, the rest of the story is meaningless.  You can have the most amazing plot known to man, but if your characters are boring or annoying, it won’t matter.

Probably the most annoying character known to readers is called the Mary Sue (or for the men, Marty Stu).  This is a character who is so utterly perfect in every way that a reader can’t even begin to relate to him/her.  Many times, this is a wish-fulfillment character of the author.  A projection of themselves as they wish to be and the hero of the story that everyone adores.

However, there is another annoying character and this is a villain who is so utterly cocky and stupid, it’s amazing they weren’t caught the first time they shoplifted as a teenager.  Sometimes this kind of villain is made handsome, but usually comes out as vain and conceited, and only occasionally intelligent.

You can read entire books on characterization, which probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to do if you’re serious about learning this craft called writing.  So when it comes to fanfiction (and using Voltron as an example), here are some things an author needs to look out for:

  • Don’t make your villain a total idiot.  He/she won’t be worth the time to catch by your hero otherwise.  That or you’ll have a really short story that won’t be worth reading.  In Voltron, Lotor isn’t stupid, in fact given the complexity of some of his plots, I’d say he’s close to a psychopathic genius.  Treat the man with some respect and your story will be so much better for it.
  • Don’t make your hero/heroine perfect.  They need to have faults like everyone else.  Most Voltron fanfiction writers tend to make Keith, the Commander of the Voltron Force perfect, but like any man, he isn’t.  He makes mistakes, says the wrong things, does the wrong things.  If all he did every day is work out, fly the lion, stop Lotor and win the princess, let’s talk about a boring story!
  • Make your secondary characters worthwhile.  Here’s another irritant of mine and one I’m sure I was guilty of when I first started writing.  Let me show you what I mean as an example.  Going back to Voltron, I’m a fan of pairing the commander, Keith and the princess, Allura.  However, when writing a story, you need angst.  So throw in a visiting prince to interest Allura or a girl who catches Keith’s eye.  The tendency is to make these characters unlikable.  Someone who is unworthy of the commander or princess.  This can be a huge problem for writing an effective character and story.  Keep it in the back of your mind as you write, it doesn’t hurt to introduce characters your readers will like just as much as your hero/heroine.

Since I’m far from an expert on the topic, here are a few sites to reference if you want more information:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-better-heroes-and-villains-archtypes

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-ways-to-write-better-bad-guys

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Purely-Evil-Villain-Interesting

A bit from Chuck Wendig: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/13/25-things-a-great-character-needs/

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/06/07/25-things-you-should-know-about-character/

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From the seasoned one…

Descriptions in stories:

Have you ever read a story where they start describing something and it goes on and on and on until you’ve forgotten what is supposed to be happening or you finally skip ahead to get back to the story?  How about the opposite?  Have you read a story where you can’t picture anything because the author has only mentioned the barest details?

Description is a necessity in writing, you’ll find this in every writing manual you’ll ever read.  However, it can be a bit of a tightrope walk to find the right balance between giving your readers enough information to paint the scene in their mind and not boring them to death with details that no one but you, the writer, cares about.

I’ve read many books that fall into the first category, causing me to skip ahead.  Sadly, at times, my writing falls into the second category.  I have some dear friends who read my material and will often point out areas where I need to do more descriptions.  But how much is too much?  I guess that is a variable that can only be decided by the reader.  Some love lots of detail, some just want to get on with the story.  However, there are a couple of guidelines you could probably follow.  Once again, these are only ideas that I use in my writing, use them if you wish.

  • When describing something, picture it in your mind and give it a minimum amount of details as you’re trying to get the whole idea down on the page.
  • When finished, wait until the next day and read what your wrote.  Now is the time to embellish and make it come alive.
  • Now, walk away from it and continue on with your story.
  • When you are finished and it has come time to edit, read it again.  Do you find yourself skipping sentences?  If so, you need to trim it down.  Do you have problems picturing the original idea?  If so, you need to embellish it some more.
  • Finally, give it to a friend and ask them to focus on the descriptions.  If they can picture it, great!  Job well done.  If they can’t, well, it’s time to go back and work on the description a bit more.  If they tell you it’s overly long, time to get out the hack saw.

Another guideline I’ve read says a paragraph or two of description is probably adequate for most scenes.  When you are running a page or two, you’ll probably lose the reader’s interest.  I find this to be pretty true when I am reading a book.

For a little more “professional advice,” check out the following links:

http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/expert-tips-on-writing-sensory-details-in-setting-description

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/enrich-your-descriptions

http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/dont-overdo-your-descriptions

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/tips_on_the_goals_of_description_in_writing

Good luck to you and have fun with your writing.  Until next time!

From the seasoned one…

Past tense versus Present tense writing:

Ask any English scholar and they will tell you that the only good book is one written in past tense and that writing in present tense limits you as a writer.  Any time I’ve asked how it limits you, I’ve never been given a straight answer that doesn’t sound like someone desperately searching for a reason to stick with their opinion.  I’ve come to believe that’s something they’ve read out of a text book and have taken it as gospel.  One that shouldn’t be challenged.

I started reading as a child, was constantly in the library as a teenager and have read hundreds of books.  I only switched to a Kindle recently because I have no more room left to store any more books.  The thing is, when I read a book, I never pay attention to tense. A story runs through my head like a movie as I read it and that is how I write, in present tense.

Once again, I am not an English major and so have never felt constricted by those rules. These days there are more and more people writing in present tense, bucking convention. (For example, Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games, EL James of 50 Shades)  Every story I post to fanfiction.net, I get some reviewer that tells me how I should be writing in past tense.  I thank them for their reviews, then politely ignore them.

But there is one rule that I do honor and that is, pick a tense and stick with it.  This is another common problem with fanfiction, stories that are a mix of present and past tense. As you write, you need to pay attention to the tense.

Here’s an example of mixing up the tense:

She walked into the room and sits down on the couch, waiting for her friend to arrive.

Do you see where I messed with the tense?  I started out in past and moved to present.

Here’s the correct version in past tense:

She walked into the room, sat down on the couch, and waited for her friend to arrive.

The correct version in present tense:

She walks into the room and sits down on the couch, waiting for her friend to arrive.

Can you see the differences?  I’m not going to tell you which tense you should write in, but once you pick one, stick with it.

Until next time…

From the seasoned one…

Today’s tip, when a title isn’t a title.

Or as a subtitle, when should you capitalize a title?  Keep in mind, I’m not an English major, so hopefully I won’t mess this up too much.  But a common mistake in fanfiction writing is to capitalize what is essentially a description as a title.

For example.  The Princess of Arus.  Commander Keith Kogane of Galaxy Garrison.  These are titles, and as such, the primary words should be capitalized.

*Note: I realize there are arguments about capitalizing the word “of” in titles, but that’s not the topic of this blog.

But in a paragraph where someone is using what looks like a title as a description, then it shouldn’t be capitalized.

For example:  Walking into the room, Keith found the princess sitting behind her desk.  In this sentence, the princess isn’t a title, it’s more of a description, therefore it shouldn’t be capitalized.  As I said, you see it a lot in fanfiction where people are describing a person, the commander, the doctor, the princess, the advisor…unless you are referring to them by title (The Princess of Arus), don’t capitalize it.

Until next time…

From the seasoned one…

Today’s tip:  Writer’s Block

So every little while, I hear from people that say they are suffering writer’s block.  The question I have for you is why?  Instead of cursing the muse who has seemingly left you, ask yourself why you can’t write?  Are you on a section of the story that isn’t that thrilling and you’re having issues pushing through it?  Do you kind of know where the story is going, but not sure how to get there?  Do you have tons of ideas in the shower, but seem to forget them when you sit down to write?  Does the white of the blank paper or the cursor blinking in a blank Word Document seem to close your mind down?  Anything above sound familiar?

Having suffered from writer’s block myself, I’ve done some reading up on it.  Every blog that has ever dealt with writer’s block has said the same thing.  The only way out of writer’s block is to write.

The question is, write what?  I haven’t seen many answers on that.

To help out my new twitter/fanfiction friends, I’ve come up with a couple of ideas.  Are these tried and true methods?  Not necessarily, but they seem to work for me.

  1. As I said before, if you’re stuck, you need to ask yourself why.  When you know why you’re stuck, you’ll find it a lot easier to fix the problem.
  2. If it’s the blank page staring at you, give yourself a writing prompt.  Something short, intended only for you to get some words written on the page.  I have a tendency to go for silly in these situations.  So think of the funniest thing that has happened to you lately and write it down.  Now, apply that funny situation to characters in a story and rewrite it with them in it, embellish as necessary.  Even if it has nothing to do with your current story, it’s something you can always look back to later to give yourself a chuckle.
  3. Perhaps you’re stuck at a point in your story and don’t know exactly how to move forward.  Instead of staring in frustration at the blank page, and if you haven’t created one already, do an outline.  I love using Literature & Latte’s software Scapple for this.  It’s great for freeform mind mapping.  Once you have the major plot points on the screen in front of you, lines and arrows connecting the movement of the plot points, it’s easier to see where you need to fill in a hole.
  4. Back to being stuck at a point in your story.  If it is just the current section you’re struggling with, move on!  Write the next scene or even move further on and write out the third act.  Whatever is flowing freely in your mind at the moment.  There’s no rule that says you have to write a story from start to finish.
  5. Do you have a story idea juggling around in your brain, bursting to get out, but you’re ignoring it while trying to work on your current project?  That idea just keeps interrupting the flow of your work and driving you nuts?  Get the idea out of your head by starting a new document or write it out in a notebook.  Call it the story slush pile that you can return to later when you are ready for a new project.  I have a huge slush pile…some of which should probably hit the recycle bin of bad story ideas.

So, are you ready to write?  Go for it!  Anybody else have ways that have worked for them to get out of writer’s block?  Feel free to comment below and add to the list.

Until next time…